Russia and Ukraine appeared to be making progress in their first face to face interviews in more than two weeks, with Moscow saying it was reducing military operations around kyiv and northern Ukraine, while Ukraine said it would agree to be neutral.
Delegations from both sides held talks in Istanbul on March 29 as Russia, more than a month after its unprovoked invasion, continued to face stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, who made gains in some regions by reclaiming ground on the outskirts of the capital region.
“In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for the continuation of negotiations and the achievement of the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing (an) agreement, it was decided to drastically reduce, to a large extent , military activity in the kyiv and Chernihiv directions,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters in Moscow.
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For its part, Ukraine has offered not to join military alliances or host foreign troops as long as it has external security guarantees and as long as Russia does not oppose the country’s membership. to the European Union.
“Security Assurances Treaty with an enhanced analogue of NATO’s Article 5. The guarantor states (US, UK, Turkey, France, Germany, etc.) are legally actively involved in the protection of the ‘Ukraine against all aggression,” Mykhaylo Podolyak wrote in a statement. post on Twitteradding that the issue of Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, would be settled by political and diplomatic means, not militarily.
The fate of eastern regions where Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014 would be set aside for discussion by Ukrainian and Russian leaders, with any peace deal requiring a referendum in Ukraine, Podolyak said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to the developments by saying he doubted Russia’s seriousness.
“There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does. We focus on the latter,” he told a press conference in Morocco. “What Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine and its people, and that continues as we speak.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russia was “repositioning” its forces near kyiv but not withdrawing and the city remained under threat.
“We are now seeing a small number of people who seem to be moving away from kyiv, the same day the Russians say they are withdrawing,” Kirby told reporters.
“But we’re not ready to call it a retreat or even a withdrawal,” he said. “We think what they probably have in mind is a repositioning to prioritize elsewhere.”
The costs of the biggest attack on a European nation since World War II continue to mount, with more than 3.9 million people fleeing Ukraine and millions more internally displaced.
Thousands of people have been killed and injured, including civilians who have been unable to find places to hide as Russia appears to target non-military facilities, such as apartment buildings, hospitals and shopping centers.
Meanwhile, the Russian economy has been hit hard by Western sanctions and Ukraine, long considered the breadbasket of Europe, has seen its tractors used as much for towing Russian tanks and other vehicles shielded only for sowing fields.
The emergence of what Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the host of the talks, called “significant progress”, comes as tens of thousands of civilians in the southern port city of Mariupol continue to be trapped under repeated shelling and airstrikes by Russian forces.
Mariupol has been one of the main focal points of the fighting since the invasion began more than a month ago. The situation in the city, which had some 400,000 inhabitants before the war, has been described as “apocalyptic”.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia has agreed to open three humanitarian corridorsincluding one from Mariupol, to allow civilians to escape combat zones, but it was unclear how many of the tens of thousands of people trapped in the city could survive.
In an address to the Danish parliament on March 29, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called Russia’s assault on the besieged city a “crime against humanity unfolding before the eyes of the whole planet in real time”.
Russia’s promise to scale back some of its operations comes with an overwhelming firepower advantage, failing to capture a major Ukrainian city.
British military intelligence said earlier on March 29 that Russian forces continued to pose a significant threat to kyiv with their strike capability, even as the Ukrainians continued to launch localized counterattacks northwest of the city. Ukrainian capital.
Ukraine’s fierce resistance took Russia by surprise, according to NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana, as did the consistency of the West’s response.
NATO, he said, is “more united than ever and willing and ready to support Ukraine in its just fight for freedom and sovereignty, but also to ensure that all allies, in particular those on the eastern flank, which are more exposed, are fully protected by nature.”
“I would say that after a month, Mr. Putin is way off his original campaign goals,” Geoana told Current Time in an interview.
“We hope that in the end Mr. Putin will realize in a cost-benefit analysis that he should limit the losses he has already suffered, not only militarily, but also economically, on the reputational and in terms of Russia’s global interests. So we hope that this will come through a political solution soon, as soon as possible. But we will probably see more of these very difficult times for the Ukrainian people,” he said. he added.
In the northern town of Chernihiv, another area where Russia has said it will calm down, Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said at least 350 civilians had been killed by Russian attacks, and likely many more as authorities continue to search the rubble every day for survivors.
“Russia’s objective is the destruction of the civilian population. This is the genocide of the Ukrainian people. It’s absolutely done on purpose,” he told RFE/RL.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian army said in its latest update on March 29 that Russian forces continue to launch missile strikes on residential neighborhoods across the country, focusing on targeting compartments. fuel storage in order to “complicate logistics” and “create the conditions for humanitarian aid”. crisis.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy have warned the West against letting its guard down against Russia.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden have expressed skepticism over Russia’s announcement that it would reduce military activity in areas around kyiv and Chernihiv.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Putin after his call with Biden and other Western leaders.
Putin told Macron that Ukrainian “nationalists” in the besieged city of Mariupol should lay down their arms, according to a Kremlin statement.
Macron’s office also said conditions were not yet in place for a humanitarian operation to help Mariupol citizens.